A Chinese pharmacist created the first electronic cigarette in 2002. The original intent behind the invention was to help individuals break their addiction to nicotine and allow them to quit smoking. From their earliest beginnings, electronic cigarettes have proven to help individuals reduce their need for nicotine gradually and then reach a point where they no longer are dependent at all.
As electronic cigarettes have evolved, however, they have added a new dimension to the addiction. Along with vape pens, they have increased in popularity and no longer are solely used as a device to help people stop smoking. E-cigarettes and vape pens emit a vapor, not smoke. This means they are allowed in many places where cigarettes are not. The liquids used to fuel both electronic cigarettes and vape pens come in many flavors and potencies. What exactly are e-liquids and vape juice and how safe are they?
What Are E-liquids? *
The liquids used to fuel electronic cigarettes have many names. E-cig juice, vape liquid, e-juice and organic e-liquid are common names. E-liquids are manufactured both with and without nicotine. They come in several different flavors. Estimates are that there are upwards of 7,000 different flavors being manufactured. With over 250 flavors being introduced on a monthly basis, the number of flavors, blends and mixes will continue to grow at an amazing pace. E-liquids and vape juices are manufactured in many different ways. Some are manufactured by large tobacco companies, while others are being mixed by small vape shops and sold on site and through online sales.
What Do E-liquids Contain? *
E-liquids can contain many different things. They are primarily made of two components, a base and various flavorings. Bases are usually comprised of a mixture of propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin. Bases are often 70%propylene glycol and 30% vegetable glycerin or a 50/50 combination. Propylene glycol usually makes up the majority of the base because it is vaporized much more easily than the vegetable glycerin.
Both artificial and natural flavorings are used to add flavor to the vapor. All additives (including those used to create the base) must be rated “food grade” by the FDA before they can be included in a mix or blend. Flavorings like Diacetyl and Acetoin are both considered to be harmful and products that contain them should be avoided. Many health professionals are pushing for all e-liquids and vape juice products to be regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, just like all other tobacco products. Once the products are regulated, the FDA would require manufacturers to report all ingredients used to create them.
What Is an Organic E-liquid? *
Organic e-liquids and vape juices are made from 100% vegetable glycerin that comes from plants that have been certified to be completely organic by the United States Department of Agriculture. The USDA has strict guidelines that plants must meet before they can be certified to be 100% organic. The term organic refers to plants that are grown without any exposure to chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. Only natural fertilizers and insect repellents can be used to help them thrive. They must also be grown in soil that is certified to be organic.
E-liquids and vape juices made from 100% vegetable glycerin are thicker and do not carry flavor as well as propylene glycol. Vegetable glycerin does not break down as completely as propylene glycol and does not produce as much of a vapor. Propylene glycol produces an extremely light weight vapor and carries flavor much more efficiently. The vapor produced by e-liquids and juices that are made from organic vegetable glycerin are considered by many to be safer than that produced from propylene glycol.
What’s the Difference Between E-liquids and Vape Juices? *
There is little difference between e-liquids and vape juices. Both may or may not contain nicotine. Professionally manufactured e-liquids are subjected to more stringent standards than those made by small vape shops, but neither are strictly regulated. The main stipulation for anyone who manufactures or blends e-liquids is that only food grade ingredients be used. This ensures that the ingredients are safe for human consumption and will not cause toxic reactions. Although there are reported cases of allergic reactions to the propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin and various flavorings.
Juices and e-liquids that contain nicotine come in a variety of different strengths and potencies. Many do not contain nicotine at all and are simply used for recreational purposes. The following list explains the potencies:
- 24 mg = Extra flavor
- 18 mg = Regular flavor
- 12 mg = Light flavor
- 6 mg = Extra light flavor
When electronic cigarettes are used to help a person break their nicotine habit, the dose closest to the amount of nicotine ingested on a daily basis would be used as the starting point. At regular intervals the amount of nicotine would be gradually reduced until the person reaches the point where they no longer need to ingest any at all.
Are E-liquids Harmful? *
One of the biggest concerns among health professionals is that many of these vape juices and e-liquids are not closely monitored during their creation. They are not regulated and, in many cases, an e-liquid’s ingredients are not listed or displayed in any way. With products made in small vape shops, any number of ingredients are used to create vape juices. All that is required is that they be of “food grade” quality. Many products have been tested that contain what are known as aldehydes. Aldehydes are specific compounds that have been proven to cause lung damage in varying degrees.
The fact is that many of the ingredients and formulations being used in the creation of both e-juices and vaping liquids have not been thoroughly tested by the FDA. Although they may be labeled as “food grade,” their primary use is for ingestion, not inhalation. It is unknown how many of these chemicals and additives will react once they have been drawn into the lung. Many ingredients, including the two bases, have been proven to be possible allergens. The next few years will be critical in terms of learning about the long term effects of vaping and what type of long lasting repercussions these e-juices will have, especially on the lungs of teenagers.
How Are E-liquids and Vape Juice Regulated? *
At this time, the manufacture, formulation and ingredients used are not regulated. The only stipulation is that ingredients be of “food grade” quality. Health professionals continue to encourage governing bodies to push for the regulation of both the devices as well as the liquids used. The original cartridges used in electronic cigarettes are regulated primarily because they are produced by the tobacco companies who manufacture all of the other tobacco products that contain nicotine.
E-liquids and vape juices are growing in popularity, especially with younger smokers. The fact that there are thousands of flavors to choose from is only one aspect of the equation. The majority of people who use electronic cigarettes and vape pens do so because they are convenient and can be used in places where cigarettes have been banned. One of the main fears is that people who are trying to stop smoking, may be exchanging one vice for another. While it is beneficial to be able to reduce the addiction to nicotine, it can be just as harmful to draw vapor into the lungs that has ingredients that have not been tested or approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Until the ingredients and formulations are regulated by the FDA, there will always be a question as to the long term health issues that present themselves with long term use of electronic cigarettes, vape pens and other smoking cessation devices. Studies are still being performed to determine just how safe e-cigs and the fluids used to produce their vapor are with extended use.